“If all people said was ‘great film’ but did nothing [about a social issue], then we have failed,” says Odyssey Impact’s CEO and visionary Nick Stuart. He’s talking about the organization’s mission of social impact beyond just making great documentary films. It’s a role that he calls “a calling, not a job” and it’s the culmination of a lifetime of experience in mainstream television news and entertainment production on both sides of the Atlantic, from BBC to Discovery.
His prior experience with traditional media outlets allowed him to explore current issues, but not prompt action afterwards.
On his arrival, Stuart masterminded a wholesale shift in Odyssey from an interfaith cable TV network to a documentary-filmmaking and coalition-building organization that facilitates change via telling stories of spirituality making a difference in people’s everyday lives, no matter the religion. He cites instances where progress would never have been made without faiths working together, such as in “The Troubles,” Northern Ireland, a story he covered extensively for the UK’s largest network, ITV. He says, “Below the surface, there were priests and ministers working to build trust. A Catholic priest and a Protestant minister would work together when someone got killed; they would call on the widow or family of the dead person and offer pastoral care and healing. These were ordinary people, not superheroes, and they weren’t looking for the limelight. Priests also served as go-betweens among the Irish government, the IRA, and the British government.” He also cites the example of faith leaders collaborating with secular activists in South Africa to end apartheid. He continues, “They went into that poisonous space and when things were collapsing around them, managed to hold that country together, playing a part and helping to solve an ‘unsolvable’ problem.”
Odyssey works to take films back into the communities represented as well as to other nonprofits and organizations to continue the conversation on a person-to-person level, even among constituencies that disagree radically. In the case of the film “MILWAUKEE 53206,” about families left behind in a zip code of Milwaukee where 62% of adult Black men are currently in prison or have served time, a local screening and discussion was met with lines around the block.
In generating these outcomes of change, British-born Stuart brings a background of looking at world events and human stories via the role of faith, from his early days at British TV network ITV through time as an MTV producer, as a BAFTA judge, at the Discovery Channel, and in various BBC posts. His experience varies from creating a comedic religious game show to reporting from the front lines of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the rise of Hamas.
A filmmaker must also deal in trust. The subjects of Odyssey’s films know that they’ll be portrayed as real people, not tokens. He reflects, “We deal with the stuff of people’s souls.
Nick is a member of the Producers Guild of America (pga) and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).